A few years ago, I did a melancholy post that revolved around my forced retirement from teaching. It involved the economic downturn, the slashing of teaching budgets, my age and reduced chances of getting hired to a teaching position in New Hampshire's slow economy and the angst at 'letting it go' and embracing a new chapter of life.
Reading Ruth Reichl's memoir/cook book, My Kitchen Year, gave me much the same feeling that I had as I posted that earlier post here at The Spice Garden.
Ruth was a ten year long editor-in-chief at Gourmet magazine in 2009, when Conde Nast leadership decided to discontinue the magazine. Ruth was taken by surprise and knocked psychologically for a loop as she faced her job loss. Gourmet magazine was looked at as a kind of foodie sacred relic. It had been around for years and years and had generations of subscribers. Ruth felt the loss of the magazine especially hard, as it went down 'on her watch'. Seeing friends and colleagues lose their jobs was a horrible experience for her.
Retreating into family life and sporadic trips to continue to promote Gourmet's just published and massive cook book, she had time to contemplate her life. The year following her departure from Gourmet gave her time to immerse herself in the seasons at her upstate home, fall back into cooking for herself and her family with far fewer forays into the city for restaurant fare, and explore upstate markets for the best of local fare that she used to make the comfort foods that helped her move from shock and grief over the loss of Gourmet magazine to acceptance and a return to creative work. Her novel, this memoir/cookbook, and various other writing projects ensued ... and for that we can be thankful. Ruth Reichl is a talented writer and cook who has much to add to foodie culture.
I enjoyed reading her slow acceptance of her life circumstances and chuckled at her adventures at and around her upstate home and in Manhattan. Life does go on after a career 'surprise', but having a repertoire of soul-saving dishes to gobble certainly makes the healing and the rebound happier !
There are 136+ dishes that are interspersed within Ruth Reichl's memoir and several really caught my eye. Some, like her version of Eric Ripert's sea urchin pasta have completely intrigued me! Her trip to California and the accompanying version of spice rubbed pork cooked in banana leaves has me ready to search out frozen banana leaves and achiote for a session with tortillas, black beans, pickled red onions, rice and a slow-cooked pork shoulder that is shredded to spicy perfection!
I have a horrid cold this week, though, and my energy is at a record low, so a simple dish of comfort food is what I'm after and Ruth's simple shirred eggs with potato puree seems the perfect soft food for my sore throat and clogged nose. Warm and comforting with some crisp bacon and a hot cup of tea, I'm betting it will be just the tonic I need ...
Shirred eggs are gently prepared. Set in a bain marie in a hot oven, the eggs slowly begin to 'set up' and just when the egg white is beginning to set, a spoonful of cream is drizzled over top of the egg and it finishes cooking in just a few minutes. The yolk is runny and gorgeous, the egg white is still slightly runny, but completely whitened. The bed of potato puree is smooth with a bit of butter and chopped chives added. Sitting alongside a couple strips of crisped bacon, this was a perfect breakfast.
I broke the egg and poked it down into the potato puree, gave it a liberal sprinkle of black pepper and Kosher salt and headed for the couch to snuggle under my wool blanket and knosh simple comfort food ... mmmm, so delish!
Ruth Reichl's Shirred Eggs and Potato Puree
3 fist-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tbsp. butter plus some for the ramekins
about 1/2 c. half & half or light cream
kosher salt and black pepper
2 tbsp. chopped chives
2 large super fresh eggs
1 tbsp. cream for each egg (for a drizzle)
Special materials: a casserole, two ramekins, boiling water for a bain marie set-up
Making the Eggs:
1. Place the peeled potato chunks in a small pan of cold water. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook gently until knife tender ( about 15 minutes).
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. and bring a kettle of water to a boil.
3. Mash the potatoes with the tbsp. measure of butter and the half&half. When smooth, add the chives and Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste.
4. Divide the potatoes between the ramekins. Use a spoon to make a well in the center of the potato mound. Crack an egg into each little depression.
5. Place the ramekins into the casserole and pour the boiling water around them (no splashing!) so the water comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
6. Place the casserole into the preheated oven and bake for about 10 minutes. When the egg whites are beginning to become opaque, spoon a tablespoon of cream over top and continue to bake for another 5 to 10 minutes. The yolks should be bright orange and runny and the whites should be just set. Use this time to crisp some bacon in a fry pan.
7. Remove from the bain marie and set the ramekins on plates. It's easier to carry them to the table (or the couch!). Sprinkle with more salt and pepper and enjoy!